Thursday, January 28, 2010

The important role of pretentious jerks

Ok everybody. Calm down. It's been a whole day since the apple keynote in which the much denied apple 'tablet' was revealed to thousands of turtleneck-clad art students and other people who had nothing to do in the middle of a Wednesday. For those of you not in the know, check here for a quick run-down of what the thing does and here for a quick list of what it doesn't.
So now that we're all briefed on what this is all about, lets get down to the inevitable 'mac vs pc' debate. Everyone who works on design and anything to do with art please go to that side of the room. And everyone who does 'actual' work (programming, troubleshooting, anything non-artsy) please go to that side.
Everyone else who doesn't really care, stay where you are so we can talk. Ok good. Now listen, this thing is just a thing. It's a big iPhone or a little computer. Die-hard Mac fans or their opposite number will not be persuaded to think different [hah!] just because of some article on a blog. However I do have a few things to say on the subject of innovation, imitation, and the law of diminishing returns.

Here's the way this whole thing works.
1. __________ comes out with a new product that no one has really made before.
1.a) It's expensive because no one has made it before.
1.b) It lacks a number of features because its new and no one has made it before.
1.c) People who get one of the first ones feel fancy for having one first.
2. The product does really really well and makes loads of money for ______.
3. Other companies design and release their own versions of the product to cash in on the craze.
3.a) Their product is often cheaper.
3.b) Their product often has many if not all of the features the first one was lacking.
3.c) Their product is sneered at by the people who felt good for being first, but now feel kind of stupid for paying twice as much for half the product 6 months earlier.
4. Everyone gets on with life.

There. That's it. Yes Mac came out with a very futuristic looking 3G capable netbook. Yes its expensive. Yes it's cool looking. Yes it lacks a bunch of features my $300 netbook from last year has. And Yes we will probably see a whole slew of innovators and imitators in the next year or so. But thats just the way things go.
The same thing happened with the iPod. The same thing happened with the iPhone. The fact that I have a Sansa MP3 player and an HTC G1 are testimony to these facts.
Early innovators and first developers never get it right on the first try, and they're always more expensive than their innovating imitators. So please, shut up about the stupid iPad. It's a nifty take on an existing concept, and we'll see a lot more done with it as time goes on.

You may now go back to hating each other based on your preferred hardware for watching porn and checking Facebook.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Why It's officially the future #MEAT

Alright, So I've been slacking rather magnificently on this posting business. But I assure you, it's completely someone else's fault.

While I figure out just who to blame, here's some nifty proof that we are indeed living in the future.

Meat Band aids.

A nice article on these things was up on Gizmodo back in November. (Here) The company PR guy said he doesn't really like the term 'meat band aids' but it's fairly accurate. A band aid is an artificial scab one uses to cover and close a wound more expediently than the normal healing process would allow. However we all know the dangers of band aids - ie taking them off. As the artificial scab holds its position, the regular scab grows and accumulates under and eventually into the bandage its self. When the bandage needs to be removed, the scab and some of the replacement tissue ends up going with it. So in a vein of thought similar to that of the dissolving stitches used for surgery, someone thought up the meat band aid.

Basically, you create a little patch of synthetic tissue (using those evil evil stem cells) that won't be rejected by the patient's immune system and you slap it on the wound - typically an ulcerous or venomous wound, something that isn't healing on its own for whatever reason. After a little while the synthetic patch adheres and bonds with the living tissue surrounding the wound, and the wound stops... being a wound.

Its made by a company called Apligraf, and unlike a few other researchers (and even a whole company or two) their goal is not custom-tailored replacement organs (rejoice! ye sinful smokers and drinkers [with $12Million to spend on new organs!]) but rather mass-produced synthetic tissue.

And that's why it's officially the future, dear readers. There is officially a company in existence who's main goal is mass-production of synthetic tissues suitable for human use.

But probably not for human consumption.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn Destroyed

In what is perhaps one of the greatest campaign attack ads I've ever seen, Illinois gubernatorial candidate Dan Hynes resurrects former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington for comment on Illinois' current governor Pat Quinn.

This is absolutely priceless and could cost Quinn his office all by itself.

Waking the Dead

Not that I am one to talk about slacking on one's blogging, but I find it hard to believe I actually beat ZephOmega to this one, so allow me to gloat with a slight chortle, as I bring you another installment "Why It's Officially the Future" before he does. Folks, we are moving ever closer to becoming Borg, as scientists have begun using machines for the purpose of waking the dead:

Surgeons made cadavers blink with artificial muscles, experiments that could in the future help restore the ability of thousands of patients with facial paralysis to open and close their eyes on their own.

If that weren't cool enough, let's remember that medicine in general already has two methods for fixing the condition of being unable to blink.

Without lubrication from the blinking lid, the eye can develop ulcers and the person can eventually go blind. Currently, eyelid paralysis is treated by one of two approaches. One is to transfer a muscle from the leg into face. However, this option requires six to 10 hours of surgery, creates a wound that can impair the body elsewhere, and is not always suitable for elderly or medically fragile patients.

"I would estimate under 100 of those are done in the United States every year," said researcher Craig Senders, an otolaryngologist at the University of California at Davis. The other treatment involves suturing a small gold weight inside the eyelid, which helps close the eye with the aid of gravity. Although such therapy is successful in more than 90 percent of patients, the resulting blink is slower than normal and cannot be synchronized with the opposite eye, and some patients also have a hard time keeping the weighted lid closed when lying down to sleep.

In the United States, roughly 3,000 to 5,000 patients undergo this surgery every year.

Now, though I did beat ZephOmega to this information, I'm certainly not him in that I don't look at stuff like this for the sake of it being interesting. So while it does happen to be cool as hell, I've got to be the one to point out that this is the kind of stuff that comes out of our current, capitalistic healthcare system.

"But...but...the people that figured this out are scientists at UC Davis, a public university. That's not part of your precious capitalism at all!"

Forgive me for bogarting Glenn Beck's Arguing with Idiots format, but it's very useful. Yes, those are public monies funding research at a public university. But that's not what makes this a capitalist discovery. What makes this discovery part of our successful capitalist way of doing things, is that somebody somewhere figured this out, and now it is available for others to put to good use. It is the same logic behind the infamous short essay, "I, Pencil," that outlines the enormously complex process by which a pencil is assembled and brought to you in the store for pocket change.

What also makes this part of our successful capitalist way of doing things is that, if you might imagine for a moment a government panel of some sort in charge of directing research & development looking over some eager scientist's application for funds to begin work on this artificial muscle project, what would be the panel's impetus to even approve the application? They would look at the fact that there are already two ways to solve this problem, and that the number of cases in total is fairly low per year on the whole, and would decide that funding to begin this research is not economically viable for the system.

Instead, we have a system where somebody somewhere, in this case UC Davis, decided that it was worth the expense to have their staff research this problem and create an even better solution than already existed. Yes, it was a public university using public funds. However, the decision was made in an effort to improve not only medicine, but the image of the university as well. This is the rational self interest by which capitalism drives innovation, even when public money is involved. No consideration to the health of the entire system was given because none needed to be. Only if our health system is ever centralized under governmental authority will we see innovation such as this disappear.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Supreme Court Strikes Down Campaign Finance Reform

WLS-AM is reporting that the Supreme Court has just struck down campaign finance reform rules that have been in place for decades, including McCain-Feingold. They have ruled that entities such as corporations and unions may spend freely to support or oppose candidates as they see fit.

UPDATE: More from TPM

In a ruling that radically reshapes campaign-finance law, the Supreme Court has struck down a key campaign-finance restriction that bars corporations and unions from pouring money into political ads.

The long-awaited 5-4 ruling, in the Citizens United v. FEC case, presents advocates of regulation with a major challenge in limiting the flow of corporate money into campaigns, and potentially opens the door for unrestricted amounts of corporate money to flow into American politics.